Biden signs $1.2T spending package to fund HHS, other healthcare programs

UPDATE: March 24 at 1 p.m.

President Joe Biden on Saturday signed a $1.2 trillion spending package, averting a partial federal shutdown.

The package funds the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other large swaths of the government through the end of September.

Earlier Saturday morning, the Senate voted 74-24 to pass the government funding bill after heated last-minute negotiations caused senators to breach the midnight deadline to avert a shutdown, NBC News reported.

Other portions of the federal government were already funded under a package passed earlier this month.

The new tranche includes funding for HHS, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Education, among others. Doing so sustains several healthcare grant programs related to provider training, federally funded health centers and national programs targeting specific diseases, such as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

The legislation provides more than $117 billion for HHS. HHS would receive a roughly 1% bump in its budget over fiscal year 2023, roughly the middle ground between the White House's ask and House Republicans' proposal. That's $14 billion more than House Republicans proposed, but $12 billion below Biden’s budget request, CNN reported.

Much of the increase comes from a $300 million boost to the National Institutes of Health for health research, among which are a $120 million funding increase for the National Cancer Institute, a $100 million increase for the National Institute on Aging and a $75 million increase for the National Institute of Mental Health. NIH will receive nearly $49 billion in funding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $9 billion, with small increases in funding for safe motherhood and infant health, as well as food safety, CNN reported.

The House of Representatives passed the six-bill, $1.2 trillion package Friday morning, putting the onus on the upper chamber to avoid a partial shutdown. 

Congress and Biden technically had until midnight Friday to prevent the partial shutdown That timeline was at odds with the 72 hours customarily given to legislators to review the text and has drawn sharp criticism from hard-right lawmakers.

To meet the deadline, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, suspended House rules and required two-thirds support. It was passed 286-to-134, with 112 Republicans and 22 Democrats voting against the measure.

The Senate requires unanimous consent to expedite the vote and beat the deadline. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the chamber to move quickly on the passage in opening remarks made on the Senate floor Friday morning.

"If individual senators resort to partisanship and stonewalling and dithering, those individuals will almost guarantee that we shut down, and the process could drag into Saturday, Sunday and possibly beyond," he said. 

Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the respective chair and vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had signaled their bipartisan support for swift passage on Thursday.

“There is zero need for a shutdown or chaos—and Members of Congress should waste no time in passing these six bills, which will greatly benefit every state in America and reflect important priorities of many senators,” Murray and Collins said in a joint statement Thursday morning.

Upon unveiling the latest package, Republican negotiators touted wins on national defense and border patrol funding as well as a stopper on funding for a United Nations agency providing aid to Palestinians. Democrats highlighted increased domestic funding related to childcare and education.

A long shot push to include major healthcare policy lobbying focuses, such as pharmacy benefit manager reform, did not make it into the package. Lawmakers who support these reforms have previously said they are unlikely to be addressed until the next spending showdown later this year.